The experience at Festival 500 in July was priceless. The choir worked so hard to take their music to the next level for our three concert performances there and they did it. They’d never sung better. All aspects of our performances were complimented on enthusiastically all week. What a thrill it was to be in that warm, embracing atmosphere on an international stage and know we measure up. How good is that? The best! Now we know our musical skill and artistry are effective across the board. Why is that so great? Because we can use them with greater confidence to tell the stories that make our world a better place. It strengthens the power of our intention. It frees the imagination!
In two days we will be leaving for Newfoundland and Festival 500. A few from the choir are already there, vacationing before the Festival begins. We have had a marvelous adventure preparing for this festival. We do theme concerts, with a variety of themes each season. In fact, our performance mandate states that we do one classical, one populist and one concert ‘especially expressive of the human condition’ each season. That keeps our seasons balanced for our audiences and our repertoire varied for the singers and myself. We repeat music whenever we can, but it is not very often, and certainly rare within one season. The music for our festival performances we performed at our April Going to the Rock! concert.
After an intensely busy spring with two invitations in addition to our final concert of the season, the ‘Small Choir’, as we call the group going to Festival 500 (about 2/3 of the whole choir, since not all were able to commit to the nine-day trip), started rehearsing in earnest to prepare for the three concerts we are to perform while in St. John’s. I knew the high level of quality expected at these events from attending choral conventions. My job was to make that level clear for the choir, who had just come off the busiest spring we ever had and were very happy to slide into summer mode, to set that bar, and in the few rehearsals we had left, to get them singing music they already know at a level they’ve never done before.
The biggest surprise for them has been the fact that they sound much different without the whole choir. The level of individual responsibility and care of tone and tuning go up markedly in a small group and they have to change everything about how they listen and how they sing.
What a joy it has been. Through recording the rehearsals, individual work, voice matching, and meticulous attention to the finest details, they sound great. From my background in music performance, I know that the best you can do is get the music up to the highest level of which you are capable, then let the inspiration and excitement of the moment take you the rest of the way. With part of your brain, you keep track of the details and the musical information rushing past you and with the other part you let go to let the text and the story come alive. It’s a thrill.
Finishing rehearsals with a short concert for friends and family to give us a dry run before the event and put it all together. The couple of surprises that cropped up (there are always surprises that never happened before—that’s part of the excitement of live performance) were enough to keep them focused for the twelve days we will be apart before gathering in St. John’s on Wednesday. Our friends and family said, “You sound wonderful, now go have fun!”, which is exactly what we intend to do!
This trip has been three years in the making for us and I have to say that we are surprised how truly excited we are to go. Our cohesion and musical beauty as the Small Choir has been a reward in itself. The Festival will just be the icing on the cake. Look out Newfoundland!
Our upcoming concert, Going to the Rock!, features music of Newfoundland, and as always, the KSS choristers have some favorite songs that they’re looking forward to performing.
Says one singer, “Sarah (arranged Jonathan Quick) is a fun classic, and Make and Break Harbour is a beautiful, poignant song that captures the plight of many Newfoundland fisherfolk and their families, written by Canada’s father of folk music, Stan Rogers.” Listen to Rogers performing his own song in the video below.
Says another singer, “She’s Like a Swallow (arranged by Edward Chapman) is a beautiful choral piece.
“I also enjoy the challenge of “Drunken Sailor” – the timing & harmonies are so much fun, and the arrangement is an amusing rendition of an old favourite!” Concert-goers will likely recognize the song when they hear it. Drunken Sailor is a capstan shanty, or sailors’ working song. Raising the anchor on a ship involved winding the rope along a giant winch (capstan), turned by sailors walking around it. Capstan shanties are typically more “smooth” sounding than other types and, unlike many other types of shanties, frequently have a full chorus in addition to the call-and-response verses. Listen to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Maken introduce their version, below:
“I like the Moocher and Me because of it’s catchy and lilting tune,” says yet another singer, “and the Feller from Fortune (arranged by Harry Somers) for the fun!” Check out this video of the University of Illinois choir singing the same arrangement of Feller from Fortune that KSS will be performing:
In addition to the Newfoundland songs, KSS will also be singing a set of varied pieces that we’re preparing for our visit to Festival 500 in July. One of the singers’ favorite songs comes from this set: “Each time we sing I Thank You God (arranged by Gwyneth Walker), it seems to have a unique impact. The lyrics work hand-in-hand with the instruments (voices & piano), drawing us all together to share this poignant message.” Listen to the 2002 NMMEA All State Womens Choir perform this piece, here:
Join us at our next subscription season concert as we present rollicking music from and about Newfoundland!
To send us on our way to Festival 500 in St. John’s, we’ll be hosting our very own Newfoundland Kitchen Party with Newfoundland storyteller Don Ford and special guest Celtic fiddler Jennie Bice from Vancouver.
Music will include traditional folk songs (She’s Like the Swallow, Ode to Newfoundland), and even a capstan shanty (sailor’s working song)!
In 2011 the Karen Schuessler Singers will be one of the featured choirs at Festival 500, the highly respected international choir festival held in St. John’s Newfoundland, every second year. This week-long festival will offer choral workshops, concerts, and a variety of other educational and performance opportunities. For KSS it promises to be the experience of a lifetime!
Stay tuned for more updates and information as our departure for the east coast draws near!
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